Former Vice President Mike Pence made a surprising announcement at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual gathering in Las Vegas on Saturday, effectively ending his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The decision came as a shock to the audience, who reacted with audible surprise to the news.
Pence’s campaign had faced a series of challenges, including fundraising difficulties and struggles to gain traction in the polls. He acknowledged these challenges when he declared, “It’s become clear to me: This is not my time,” while also expressing no regrets about his campaign.
What makes Pence’s withdrawal particularly noteworthy is his status as the first major candidate to exit a race that has been largely dominated by his former boss, Donald Trump, who has transformed the Republican Party. While a former vice president would typically be a formidable candidate, Pence found it challenging to build a solid base of support in a crowded field.
Pence chose the venue in Las Vegas to emphasize his continued support for Israel and to warn against the isolationist and populist shifts within the Republican Party. This decision was influenced by his belief that these shifts pose a danger to the nation and embolden its enemies.
By announcing his withdrawal more than two months before the Iowa caucuses, Pence avoided accumulating further campaign debt and the potential embarrassment of failing to qualify for the third Republican primary debate. His decision to reject former President Trump’s baseless claims about overturning the 2020 election results had previously drawn the ire of Trump and his supporters.
Pence’s time as Trump’s loyal vice president, who defended the former president at every turn, polarized public opinion. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 57% of U.S. adults viewed Pence negatively, while only 28% had a positive view.
Throughout his campaign, Pence attempted to increase his visibility among voters, stressing his hard-line stances on issues such as abortion and campaigning in Iowa with his wife, Karen, a Christian school teacher. Despite his efforts, Pence struggled to gain significant traction in the state.
Raising campaign funds was another hurdle for Pence, who ended September with a modest $1.18 million in the bank and $621,000 in debt, a financial situation that was becoming increasingly untenable. Some close to Pence felt that continuing his candidacy could jeopardize his long-term standing within the Republican Party.
While Pence did not immediately endorse any of his rivals, he encouraged his fellow Republicans to select a candidate who would lead with civility, in contrast to his criticisms of Trump.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had differing responses to Pence’s announcement, with DeSantis making no mention of it during his speech but later praising Pence as a “principled man of faith.” In contrast, Nikki Haley expressed gratitude to Pence for his service.
Pence is expected to remain engaged in the conservative movement, partly through his think tank, Advancing American Freedom, and a forthcoming book offering advice on work-life balance. His group will continue to advocate for policies such as increased U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense and proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Mike Pence’s exit from the presidential race marks a significant development in the evolving landscape of the 2024 Republican primaries, leaving room for other candidates to vie for the nomination in a post-Trump era.